Toyota Sharelunker Program
The ShareLunker program has been instrumental in illustrating the importance of catch and release fishing in the development of trophy largemouth bass fisheries. Data collected by the program shows that it takes 8 to 10 years for a bass to grow to 13-pound size. Slot limits that protect large fish have been proven effective in increasing the quality of fishing. Science-based fisheries management has been shown to be the best method for managing Texas public waters.
Bass fishing has enjoyed an increase in popularity in Texas that parallels the increase in the number and quality of fish in Texas reservoirs. Communities near popular bass fishing lakes reap a significant economic boost from anglers.
Even the fish have benefited from the ShareLunker program. When the program began, little was known about the procedures needed to care for big bass. Early in the program, many entries died while at TPWD facilities. Over time better care has increased survival to the point that nearly all fish entered into the program survive to be used for spawning or are returned to the wild. Even more importantly, proper fish handling techniques have been publicized as part of the program, so that anglers are now able to take better care of any fish they catch.
In the course of caring for more than 500 largemouth bass weighing over 13 pounds, the ShareLunker Program has:
- improved knowledge of proper handling and care of big fish
- developed and communicated to anglers recommendations for handling fish in ways that improve survival
- established weigh and holding stations at major reservoirs around the state to improve the survival of big fish by providing the proper environment for them until pickup by trained TPWD personnel
- generated nationwide interest in Texas bass fishing and increased tourism, as evidenced by 82 ShareLunkers having been caught by residents of 22 states other than Texas
- documented the number of lakes producing 13-pound or larger bass from one in 1980 to 62 by 2011
- created awareness of the value of catch-and-release fishing
- developed a selective breeding program that produces broodfish used throughout the TPWD hatchery system, helping spread ShareLunker-derived genetics to all public waters stocked with Florida largemouth bass by TPWD
- generated free publicity for bass fishing in Texas worth millions of dollars by providing the basis for thousands of newspaper, magazine, television, radio and electronic media stories
- provided funding to develop cutting-edge genetic fingerprinting techniques that makes it possible for TPWD to identify ShareLunkers and their offspring stocked into public waters. These techniques also make possible:
- genetic identification using a minimally invasive fin clip;
- positive identification of ShareLunker offspring and confirmation of previously caught ShareLunkers should implanted tags be unreadable;
- more accurate identification of intergrades (crosses between Florida and northern largemouths) and easier determination of parentage and relatedness among ShareLunkers, including identification of sisters submitted to the ShareLunker program;
- genetic analysis of scale samples archived from ShareLunkers submitted to the program before the DNA fingerprinting techniques were available;
- the search for genetic markers associated with ShareLunkers and for gender determination. Samples are being analyzed in an attempt to determine if there is a specific gene that influences growth differences.
- Using genetic fingerprinting techniques developed in the last five years, TPWD has begun studies in selected public reservoirs using tagged ShareLunker offspring (referred to as Operation World Record or OWR fish) to determine the growth rate of OWR fish compared to other largemouth bas in those reservoirs. Results so far show OWR fish grow bigger faster.
These accomplishments have all been made using program sponsor dollars and without additional staff over and above those required for normal operation.